Excellence in Communication and English Language Skills Program

Presenting research comes with its own linguistic challenges, especially when the language is not your first/native language. Thus, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and English Language Programs are teaming up to celebrate the diversity of research and language at Washington University with the ExCELS Award. This award recognizes outstanding postdoctoral appointees who engage their audience with clear and concise explanations of their research, all while speaking English as an additional language.

Postdoctoral appointees from all disciplines and stages are encouraged to apply as we value the diversity of research methodologies and topics from the postdoctoral community.

Applications are closed

Register now to attend and watch your colleagues give Grammy-level performances!

Successful applicants will participate in two trainings leading up to the competition on September 22nd at which they will present a 5-minute research talk followed by a live Q&A with the audience.

The Competition

On September 22nd, presenters will compete to be one of three ExCELS Award recipients. The competition will be held in Umrath Lounge from 5:30 to 7:30pm on the Danforth Campus in front of an audience of friends, family, peers, and a panel of three judges. Two of the awards will be decided by the panel of judges. One of the awards will be chosen by the audience, so if you are unable to compete, register to join us as an audience member!

Each participant will give a 5-minute (timed) presentation of their research with only 1 slide to help them. After presenting, they will be asked 2 questions, sourced from audience members. The Q&A session will last up to 5 minutes for each participant.

Appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages will be served throughout the competition (because no one wants to perform in front of a hangry audience).

Rules for Participation

  1. Participants must be a WashU Postdoctoral Appointee.
  2. English is an additional language for the participant (i.e., non-native language).
  3. To compete, participants must attend both in-person training sessions.
    Wednesday, September 7 from 8:30-10am, Medical Campus, FLTC 204
    Wednesday, September 14 from 8:30-10am, Medical Campus, FLTC 204
  4. Participants must attend the competition on September 22nd from 5:30-7:30pm and give their research presentation in-person (i.e., participants cannot record a video of their presentation, nor can they attend virtually).
  5. Research presentations are no longer than 5 minutes. At time, the speaker may finish their sentence. Continuing to speak past the call time will result in disqualification.
  6. Participants can use 1 slide only to assist with their presentation. No animations, transitions, or videos will be permitted.


In order to compete, successful applicants must attend these two trainings:

Training I: Content Organization
Objective– Learn to distill complex research ideas/data into clear and specific points for quick and easy consumption
Wednesday, September 7 from 8:30-10am, Medical Campus, FLTC 204

Training II: Delivery
Objective– Learn presentation and communication skills to exude confidence and bolster your message/points
Wednesday, September 14 from 8:30-10am, Medical Campus, FLTC 204

After these two trainings, participants will be given an opportunity to practice their talk in the event space on September 21 between 8:30 and 11am.

Judging Criteria

Three judges will listen to and score each talk based on:

Clarity of language (0-10 pts)- Is the speaker clear and comprehensible?

Content appropriateness (0-10 pts)- Can the content of the presentation be understood by non-specialists?

Audience engagement (0-10pts)- Does the presenter capture the audience’s attention and hold it throughout the talk?


The ExCELS Award is a $200 career development award. Recipients may use the funds to support conference fees, publication expenses, and other career and professional development opportunities.


If you have any questions, please reach out to Peter Myers at petersmyers@wustl.edu.